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Montebello Castle - Bellinzona
Well Preserved Medieval Concentric Castle in Switzerland

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Montebello is one of the the three castles in Bellinzona, Switzerland. It is located on a rocky hilltop east of town is connected to Castelgrande by the city walls

It was built before 1313 for the pro-Imperial Rusca family, who occupied the castle following the Visconti victory and occupation of the Castelgrande. By the end of the 14th Century it was in the hands of the Visconti. The castle was renovated and expanded between 1462 and 1490 to its current state. In the 19th Century the castle fell into disrepair and was renovated starting in 1903.

It now houses a museum, open from March to November.




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Small scale map showing the location of
Montebello Castle - Bellinzona

Google map showing the location of
Montebello Castle - Bellinzona

Large scale map showing
Montebello Castle - Bellinzona


Montebello Castle (known as the Small, New or Middle Castle in the 15th Century, as Schwyz Castle from 1506 and St. Martin's Castle after 1818) is located to the east of the town center.

Unlike the Castelgrande, Montebello was not protected by natural features. It is surrounded by deep moats that protected the walls. The complex is rhomboid in shape and connected to the city walls on the south and north. The castle clearly shows the three stages of construction, with the original central keep surrounded by the 14th Century walls which are in turn surrounded by the 15th Century walls.

The inner keep dates from before 1313 and is an irregular rectangle. It appears that the battlemented tower with a hip roof on the north-east side of the keep is an incorrect reconstruction from 1903. Prints from the 17th Century show a four story building with a roof sloped toward the interior of the keep. The keep was built with a high, strong outer wall with living quarters and utility buildings along the inner wall. The original entrance is located high on the western wall and can only be reached by climbing an external flight of stairs. The well in the inner eastern bailey may be from the original castle.

The 14th Century wall was partly included in the later 15th Century wall, but some original sections can still be seen. The 14th Century gateway is supported by a projecting gatehouse, though the inner and outer drawbridges are modern reproductions.

The 15th Century wall is located 715 m (2,346 ft) from the original complex, with a moat on the east side and a rounded arch in the south-east side. It includes some parts of the 14th Century wall. An arrowhead shaped barbican was added to the east of the moat and was protected by another moat and machicolated battlements on the north side. On the south side a gate, equipped with murder-hole, was added during this expansion.

A little chapel, dedicated to Saint Michael, leans against the wall of the more recent south-facing section; built around 1600, it is one of the few buildings erected in the castles of Bellinzona under the rule of the three Swiss cantons.

In addition to the castle walls Montebello Castle houses the Archaeological and Civic Museum. The museum was opened in 1974 and is located in the tower and the former residential quarters of Montebello Castle. It is divided into two sections-history and archaeology. In the history section there are several capitals from the 15th Century and a rare 13th Century Baptismal font as well as drawings and sketchs from several artists. This section also houses a collection of ceremonial and military arms. The archaeology section includes many items from 1400–1500 B.C. as well as ceramics, glassware, funeral urns, ornamental objects and jewellery in iron and bronze from around the canton.







Bellinzona is the capital city of the canton Ticino in Switzerland. The city is famous for its three castles (Castelgrande, Montebello, Sasso Corbaro) that have been UNESCO World Heritage Sites since 2000.

The city lies east of the Ticino River, at the foot of the Alps. It stretches along the river valley, surrounded by the Saint-Gotthard Massif.

French Bellinzone, local German: Bellenz

Bellinzona has always occupied an important geographic location in the Alps. Several key alpine passes meet in the area around Bellinzona, making it a key trading center.

In the late 1st Century BC a fort was built in the area during the reign of the Roman Emperor Augustus. The fort fell into disrepair in the following centuries. It was rebuilt and expanded in the 4th Century AD. During the reign of Diocletian and Constantin Bellinzona's location was recognized as a key point in the defences and a large castle was built to protect the walls. This chain of castles and watchtowers protected northern Italy from invasion.

The town that grew up around the fortifications was known as Bilitio.

Following the collapse of the Western Roman Empire the successor states, which included the Ostrogoths around 500 AD, the eastern Byzantine Empire towards the middle of the 6th Century, and the Longobards from 568, all took control of Bellinzona and used the castle to assert control of the surrounding passes.

Under the Longobards, Bellinzona became the site of a permanent garrison to protect the region from raids by the neighbouring Frankish and Alemannic tribes. The Longobards controlled the traffic on the important trade routes from Bellinzona.

At around 774 the Frankish Kingdom (later to become the Carolingian Empire) gained control of Bellinzona and the Ticino valley.

Two centuries later the Holy Roman Emperor Otto III, seeking to restore the glory of ancient Rome, opened the Lukmanier and St. Bernard passes. Control of Bellinzona was a key part of this expansion. The city was taken from Milan and given as a gift to the Bishop of Como, who supported Otto's dynasty.

In 1002, following the death of Otto III, Marquis Arduino of Ivrea declared himself King of Italy and ratified the bishop's ownership of the Castelgrande and the city. Two years later, after Arduino had been defeated by Henry II the King of Germany, Henry II's man Enrico II reratified the gift of the Castlegrande to the Bishop of Como.

During the Investiture Controversy of the late 11th Century the city of Bellinzona with its castle came under the control of the Hohenstaufens of Swabia. In 1180, Frederick I (Barbarossa) placed the city under the jurisdiction of the city of Como.

In the following years Como supported the Pope in his conflicts with the Holy Roman Emperor. However in 1239, Como sided with the Emperor Frederick II who quickly moved forces into Bellinzona and strengthened the Castelgrande. In 1242 Milan sent Guelph (pro-papacy) forces to take Bellinzona. The city and castle were taken, weakening the Emperor south of the Alps.

The town was back under the jurisdiction of Como in 1249 and conflicts in northern Italy continued. Castelgrande was besieged in 1284, 1292 and 1303.

Around the end of the 13th Century the Rusca family built another castle, Montebello, in Bellinzona, which they then controlled. By 1335 the Rusca family had been driven out of Como and had to retreat to Bellinzona. Five years later, in 1340, Milan besieged Bellinzona. Following a lengthy siege, the city fell to Milan but the Ruscas were allowed to keep Montebello.

Pro-papacy Milan would dominate Bellinzona for the next century and a half, though the pro-Imperial Rusca would also occupy part of the city.

Under the control of the Visconti, trade flourished and the city of Bellinzona grew. During the second half of the 14th Century a long wall, known as the Murata, was built across the entire Tessin valley. This wall allowed Milan to protect and tax the trade route over the St. Gotthard Pass.

The city was controlled by Milan through the Visconti family after 1340, although the Visconti did not have a formal title and feudal rights until 1396 when they were granted by King Wenceslaus.

The orderly growth of Bellinzona was threatened in 1402 when Duke Gian Galeazzo Visconti died. The following year Bellinzona was taken under the control of Alberto di Sacco of Val Mesolcina. During the period of unrest following Gian Galeazzo Visconti's death, a tower which would become the nucleus of the third castle, Sasso Corbaro, was built outside the city.

Alberto held Bellinzonauntil 1419 when it was taken over by Uri and Obwalden, states that had expanded into the Leventina Valley. Milan attacked the city three years later in 1422 after an offer to buy the city was rejected by the Swiss Confederation. Troops from Uri and Obwalden were driven from the city and later defeated at the Battle of Arbed. This defeat discouraged the expansionist intentions of Uri and its allies towards Lake Maggiore for the time being.

The border between Uri and Milan was fixed in the peace treaty of 1426, but in 1439 Uri invaded again. While they were unable to take Bellinzona. Victories of the Swiss troops led to Milan granting all of the Leventina Valley to Pollegio to Uri in 1441.

Following the death of Duke Filippo Maria Visconti in 1447, Bellinzona was in the middle of the succession crisis between Franchino Rusca of Locarno and Heinrich of Val Mesolcina, who were allied with Uri and the Ambrosian Republic in Milan. The war following the succession crisis lasted nearly three years until Francesco I Sforza seized power in Milan. Bellinzona quickly accepted the new Sforza dynasty and the peace and stability that followed.

Peace was broken again in 1478 when the Swiss once again attacked Bellinzona unsuccessfully. Swiss pride was restored by the Battle of Giornico which followed, when a force of 600 Swiss soldiers defeated 10,000 Milanese troops. Following the attack, Milan built the Sasso Corbaro either on the site of a tower which had been built nearly a century before. The other two castles were strengthened and the Murata wall across the valley was rebuilt. Much of the modern castles and fortifications date from this period of construction in the late 15th Century.

In 1499 nearly one and a half centuries of Milanese rule ended with the invasion of Milan by Louis XII of France. He captured Bellinzona and fearing an attack by the Swiss, fortified the Castelgrande with 1000 troops. Throughout the winter of 1499/1500 unrest in Bellinzona grew. In January an armed revolt of the citizens of Bellinzona drove the French troops from the city. Seeking protection from France, Bellinzona joined the Swiss Confederation on April 14, 1500. Bellinzona would remain under the joint administration of Uri, Schwyz and Nidwalden until the creation of the Helvetic Republic after the Napoleonic invasion of Switzerland in 1798. From 1798 to 1803, under the Helvetic Republic, Bellinzona was the capital of the canton of Bellinzona.

Following the Act of Mediation in 1803 Bellinzona became part of the independent canton of Ticino, and the capital of the new canton from 1803 to 1814. From that date until 1878, Bellinzona, Lugano, and Locarno, took turns being capital every six years.

The city includes the village of Artore and, since the incorporation in 1907, the former municipalities of Carasso , Daro, and Ravecchia.

The city is known for its carnival Rabadan, which has taken place for over 150 years.

The Three Castles, officially listed as the Three Castles, Defensive Wall and Ramparts of the Market-Town of Bellinzone, have been an UNESCO World Heritage Site since 2000. The group is composed of Castelgrande, castle Montebello, castle Sasso Corbaro and fortified walls.

Castelgrande is located on a rocky peak overlooking the valley, with a series of fortified walls that protect the old city and connect to the Montebello. The third castle (Sasso Corbaro) is located on a isolated rocky promontory south-east of the other two.

Print of Belinzona


Walls at Belinzona


Arms of Belinzona


Battle re-enactment at Belinzona


Belinzona at Night


June, 30 1422: The Battle of Arbedo (canton of Ticino, Switzerland), fought between the Duchy of Milan and the Old Swiss Confederacy, occurs. A Milanese Army of 11,000 foot, 5,000 horse, under Francesco Bussone, defeated a Swiss army of some 2,500 foot. The defeat at Arbedo persuaded the Swiss to increase the number of pikemen.


Castelgrande at Belinzona



Unesco World Heritage Site

Unesco name of World Heritage site: Three Castles - Defensive Wall and Ramparts of the Market-Town of Bellinzona (added in 2000)

Justification for Inscription: Criterion iv The fortified ensemble of Bellinzona is an outstanding example of a late medieval defensive structure guarding a key strategic Alpine pass.

Click here for more UNESCO World Heritage Castles


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